On Manners

7 Jul
Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Manners are subjective. There are few remaining standards for proper behavior, as recently noted by The New York Times columnist David Brooks. One person’s rude neighbor is another’s best friend. My philosophy is basically live and let live, so I am fairly patient with people’s idiosyncrasies that could be misconstrued as bad behavior.

But one thing that gets my goat is people who are just plain rude. I had a very strict kindergarten teacher named Mrs. Hudson who had a panoply of characters posted above the blackboard. Rude Robert was the most gauche. Above all, in Mrs. Hudson’s class of 5-year-olds, it was bottom of the barrel to be Rude Robert.

Disrespect for the elderly is a pet peeve of mine. The other day en route to work I was coming down the stairs at the parking garage. A young professional-looking guy breezed past me in the stairwell and proceeded to nearly knock over an older woman lower down the flight. I felt badly for the woman he almost knocked over. Not just because she risked a tumble—this was a situation where the proper thing to do, out of respect for her age, was just slow the heck down and politely let her lead the way to the foot of the stairs. Zoom past her then, by all means, but just let her get down the stairs with her dignity intact.

Another example: Being snubbed. When in public settings, it is not necessary to flap one’s arms and flag down acquaintances from across the room. But some sign of recognition, a simple nod in shared acknowledgment of coexistence and common experience, is appropriate and a sign of mutual respect. Long conversation is not required, but no one wants to be blatantly ignored. Just bad form.

One more: littering. Throwing trash out the window of one’s car is just wrong. I remember in the 70s when we kids were encouraged to call people “litterbugs” for not respecting the environment. One time when on the ski lift with my daughter, we boarded behind two fun-loving 20-ish women. They cleaned out the pockets of their parkas and tossed candy wrappers, beer cans and kleenex underneath the lift. At times like this, my inner vigilante comes out. First, do not litter. And second, don’t set a bad example for kids. On the way down the hill, I speared their trash on my ski pole. It was easy to see, because there was NO OTHER TRASH on the hill, since POLITE PEOPLE know not to litter. When my daughter and I arrived back in line for the lift, lo and behold, there were the young ladies. I told them they left something on the hill. They said, “No, we didn’t,” and I said, “Oh YES you did.” There were lots of other people in line, and it is not pleasant to be held publicly accountable for something you didn’t think anyone saw you do. Oops.

And finally…stealing. Again, some people think that this is okay if no one sees them doing it. I don’t think so. Once while at church, I was in the cry room with my toddler (a few years ago!) and saw a man steal a bike from the rack in front of the church. Again, vigilante action. I told a friend to watch my kid and ran out of the church, knowing that no one else saw this happen. I chased the man across the street shouting, “Thief!” Public embarrassment, again, ruled the day. He dropped the bike and ran off to find another something to steal.

Bad manners make us less complete as humans, in relationship to ourselves and others. It’s not a matter of looking or acting properly—it has to do with treating humanity, even oneself, with dignity.

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3 Responses to “On Manners”

  1. gmonteith July 8, 2009 at 6:31 pm #

    I once traveled to New York with the Chief Financial Officer of my company. Despite my being low man on the totem pole on this trip, he was friendly, engaging and respectful in our limousine ride to the event we were attending. But seated at his table at dinner, along with other CFOs I did not know,he did not introduce me, he didn’t talk to me and he never looked my. I have never spent a more uncomfortable hour and a half than I spent that day and have never quite forgiven him for it.

  2. toknowbetter July 8, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    Selectively snubbed! I wouldn’t forget that, either. Not kosher.

  3. mblawson August 2, 2009 at 9:23 pm #

    I travel a lot and I find that most people leave their manners outside the airport doors. I don’t understand what people think will come of them yelling at the ticket counter person about the weather. In an effort to talk about something nice, I will share one story where the flight attendant was quite helpful during a delay. I was on my way to Boston. There were severe thunderstorms up and down the coast and although we were loaded into the plane, we had to sit on the ground for 60 minutes. The pilot and flight attendants did a great job of keeping us updated and comfortable–we even got free snacks! The passenger next to me was with her teenage daughter and kept complaining and making loud statements about how she hated this airline etc. I figure that teenager will probably be a complaining passenger soon… As I exited the plane in Boston (after safely landing by the way) I thanked the pilot and flight attendant for making us comfortable during the delay–you should have seen them smile. It surely doesn’t take much to make people happy which I believe is a testament to so many people having bad manners.

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